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A History of my Photography - Early Years 1962 - 1974

My First Cameras


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    My first memories having to do with photography are using the case to my father's Argus C3 to take pictures, copying what my dad was doing. He had to remove the C3 from its case to attach the flash unit.

 

Kodak Brownie Starflash

A Brownie Starflash purchased at a swap meet.

    My parents won this camera at a bridge tournament. They gave it to my paternal grandmother who put it away and never used it. It came in a kit with a roll of film, 2 batteries and four flash bulbs. In 1962 I was living with my grandparents while attending a private school in New York City. I persuaded my grandmother to let me use the camera to take pictures. She gave it to me but insisted I use the old expired roll of film that came with it. The batteries were dead but the flashbulbs still worked. The first roll I shot was terrible because of the expired film.

The lens of the Starflash showing the aperture setting for color or black and white film.

    This camera used 127 roll film and produce a 40mm by 40mm image on the negative, 12 pictures per roll. This film size was very common back then and didn't go out of style until the Instamatic 126 cameras came out a few years later and replaced the 127 roll film. Both color and black and white  film was available and a little lever below the lens allowed you to set the f stop for either type of film. The lens was plastic with a metal mount and the flash used M2 size bulbs. The flash was not removable and the shutter speed was fixed so the exposure latitude of the film had to make up for differences in light intensity.

    I shot mostly black and white - Verichrome Pan was the film type that was commonly sold, but I remember shooting at least one roll of slides. The large negative size made for large bright slides and even today medium format positive film is sometimes trimmed down to these "Super Slides" when a medium format projector is not available. I remember the slides were of a Boy Scout campout and the pictures taken in bright sunlight were over exposed. Well even these days color slide film has the least latitude of all films. When shooting slides with the flash you needed to use the blue flash bulbs, for black and white you could use the blue or clear ones.

The rear of the Starflash showing the red window for advancing the film and the silver button for ejecting the hot used flashbulbs

    I had purchased a close up lens for this camera which I used to take portraits of my grandparents and learned about viewfinder parallax the hard way. My grandmother shut the camera in a drawer that was a little too shallow and damaged the end of the lens mount so the close up lens didn't stay on any more. The final bit of damage occurred when I discover the plastic coating on the flashbulbs came off with a pocket knife. I covered the camera with a plastic bag and fired the camera with a string tied to the release. The blast remove most of the chrome plating from the flash reflector, but the plating on the outside of the reflector still allowed flash pictures.

    In 2005 I went to a photo swap meet sponsored by the local photo clubs and was able to purchase a Starflash camera for five dollars. It still had a roll or 127 film in it and is fully functional, though the film is a little old

 

Yashica 72E

Front view of a Yashica 72E

    My Second camera was one I bought with my Dad's help from the local photo store in Harrisonburg, VA. It was a Yashica 72E, which is a single frame camera. Most 35mm cameras use the area of two 35mm motion picture frames, this give a 24mm X 36mm image on the film. Single frame cameras expose an image of 18mm X 24mm and therefore get twice as many pictures on a roll. At the time we could get black and white single frame negatives printed, but when I shot slide film I had to cut and mount the positive myself. The camera had a selenium photocell metering ring around the lens that was read on a meter on top that you set for the film ASA and read in exposure values (EV). The lens barrel had two rotating rings, one for f stop and the other for shutter speed, with a window to set the EV value from the meter. One the window had the proper EV value you could rotate the two rings together to select the combination of f stop and shutter speed you wished to use.

    The inner ring on the front allowed you to focus the lens, you guessed the distance, there was no rangefinder. The meter worked great in daylight but was limited indoors like all photovoltaic meters. I also bought a small flash unit that used AG-1 flashbulbs and attached to the shoe on top of the camera. Hot shoes were years in the future so you had to plug the flash into the socket on the front of the camera. Film advance was via a wheel on the bottom rear of the camera and the manual reset film counter was on the bottom with the rewind knob. This a very compact camera - one of the advantages of single frame cameras, but the single frame concepts was never very popular.

    I used this camera all through high school and college. In my senior year of high school I purchased an electronic flash unit to save on having to buy flash bulbs. When I fitted the electronic flash to the camera it made the whole thing top heavy (the flash was larger and heavier than the camera) so I purchased a flash bracket to move it off to the side. This camera was stolen out of my car when I was living in San Francisco in early 1970.

 

Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic

Pentax Spotmatic in Black

    My next camera was my fist Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera which I purchased in 1970. It was a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic. Honeywell was the US distributor for ASAHI Pentax and their name would appear on all products instead of Asahi.  The camera available in black or chrome and I purchased the black model. I purchased it with the 55MM F1.4 lens. I also bought a 28mm F3.5 and a 135 F2.5 lens at the same time plus the then relatively new 2X teleconverter as well as the so called ever ready case. This was a far better camera than any that I had owned previously. I had a full range of shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/1000 second, built in light meter that measured light coming through the lens, which could focus as close as 18 inches. I soon added extension tubes, a lens reversing ring, a right angle finder and a viewfinder magnifier to my collection of gear. Everything came in its own case so I strung all the accessories along an extra camera strap like a bandoleer which I would sling over my shoulder. I would travel all over San Francisco which was where I was living taking pictures.

    For a flash unit I purchased a Honeywell Strobinar 770, one of the first automatic flash units on the market. This was a large potato masher sized flash unit that mounted on a bracket that fastened to the bottom of the camera. Hot shoes were still not around so a coiled flash sync cord connected the flash to the X sync jack on the front of the camera. Honeywell had invented the automatic flash. A sensor on the front of the flash measured the light coming back from the subject and at a fixed level would burn off the remaining charge in the flash on an internal tube so no more light was generated. You had to use an F stop that varied with the ASA speed of the film you were using. While not perfect it was better than using guide numbers. The flash was good for about 80 flashes on a charge of it's rechargeable batteries. I can remember the look on a would-be robbers face after having the full power or the flash go off in his face.

Top view of a Pentax Spotmatic

    I received a 17mm fisheye lens from my parents the first year. This was a full frame fisheye as opposed to the circular fisheye. The image filled the entire frame but was distorted, the further from the center a straight line was the more it was curved. This fit in well with the early 1970's. I had also bought a bellows and experimented with macro-photography. I discovered about field curvature in my 55mm lens. but my enlarger lens worked great. I still have nearly all of the black and white photos shot with this camera and many of the color slides also. I learned a lot about photography using this camera.

    After I moved to San Diego in 1971 I purchase a 200mm lens for the Spotmatic. This really brought to light the problems with the lens mount. The Spotmatic had what was called the Pentax-Practika screw mount. You had to unscrew the lens through several turns to remove the lens and reverse the process to mount a new one. Usually when attaching a lens you tuned it backwards until you felt the starting point then reversed and screwed it on snug. This was time consuming and since you would do many lens changes (the few zoom lenses around were not very good) it could be a real pain. The 200mm lens had a very stiff focusing system and you had to make sure it was very very snug to keep it from unscrewing as you focused. The metering system was another gripe - it measured the entire viewfinder area equally (this despite the Spotmatic name) and turning on the meter stopped the lens down. The viewfinder showed the exposure meter needle which had to be centered for correct exposure. Information on the shutter speed and f-stop was not shown, so it was easy to set too low a shutter speed. I purchased an external light meter and frequently used it in preference to the built in one.

    After a few years I had added a 35mm and a 105mm lens to my collection of Pentax gear. At this point I traded it all for a Leica M4 with three lenses and a Visoflex.

 

Leica M4

Front view of a Leica M4 showing the controls

    The Leica M4 is an amazing camera. It felt much more solid than the Spotmatic. It came with a 50mm f2 lens called a Dual Range Summicron. This lens would focus from infinity to 36 inches normally, but when a finder adapter was added it would focus from 36 inches down to 18 inches. It was very heavy because the body was machined out of a solid block of steel! By comparison the 55mm f1.4 lens of the Spotmatic could focus down to 18 inches without any additional parts. I also received a 35mm lens and a 135mm lens with this camera.

    It also came with another interesting device called a Visoflex 2. This was a mirror box that attached to the front of the M4 and converted it into a single lens reflex camera. You had to remove the finder prism to install or remove the Visoflex and it did not have an rapid return mirror. You had to flip the mirror back down between shots. The 135mm lens came with two focusing mounts, one for rangefinder use and one for use with the Visoflex. I purchased a 90mm lens when I did the trade so I had a lens for all 4 focal lengths supported by the M4 viewfinder 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm.

Rear view of the M4 with the film type reminder on the back door, the single viewfinder window and the two PC sockets for M and X sync.

    I was able to find a used Leica bellows that came with a number of adapters. You had to use the bellows with the Visoflex of course but I could mount any of the lenses on it for macro-photography. The 135 would focus from infinity to 1:1 when used with this combo. One of the adapters allowed me to use a Novoflex 400mm lens that I had with the Visoflex M4 combo, giving me a long focus lens. I also was able to find a Visoflex focusing mount for my 90mm lens so I had three lenses that worked on the Visoflex.

    The M4 came with a light meter that mounted to the shoe on top of the camera. It coupled to the shutter speed dial and would show you the f stop to use once the film speed had been entered. It had two ranges for indoor and outdoors and a button on the side to take the reading. It was accurate and easy to use. My Dad had a Honeywell Pentax that had a clip on meter but it was clumsy in comparison.

Top view of the M4

    The Leica made a wonderful tourist camera because the camera and 4 lenses could fit in a small bag that was relatively light and compact. When I entered the U.S. Navy in Sept. of 1974 I was thinking about how handy it would be aboard ship. Alas while I was in Navy Boot Camp a person who shall remain nameless sold the camera with a number of accessories and I never saw it again. I sold the remaining lenses and accessories because getting a replacement was beyond my means at the time.

 

Hasselblad 500C

Four views of a Hasselblad 500C

    The Hasselblad 500C was an excellent camera with one drawback - everything designed for it was too expensive. I purchased it used for a very good price, but when I went to purchase other lenses I found they cost far more than the original camera and lens. This is even more true today since some modern Hasselblad's cost more than a new car. I sold this camera when I was cleaning out my camera gear after I got out of boot camp.

Canon FTb-QL

Cannon FTb-QL

    This is the first and and until recently the last cannon SLR I have ever owned. I purchased it very cheaply and kept it as a spare camera. The body and lens were larger and more clumsy to use than the Spotmatic and it never fit my hands right. I landed up selling it six months after my post boot camp purge and never regretted it. The QL in the model name stands for quick load - the camera had a system to simplify loading the film to the take up spool which usually worked.

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